This isn’t about upgrades. Upgrades depend on your printer and specific preferences. However, some items are universal and are needed for all aspects of 3D printing at one time or another. Here is a list of the essential items you should probably have handy if you want a simplified 3D printing experience.
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A Metric Nut and Bolt kit
Virtually all printers use metric nuts and bolts in the M3, M4, M5, and M6 sizes. Also, many of the projects you print will be assembled using the same. A nice assortment of these that will last you a long time only costs about $7 to $25 depending on how big a kit you want. Of course you can 3D print metric nuts and bolts from plastic, but they are weak and often don’t print well due to their small threads and head shapes. Below is one of the best as well as a lower cost alternative, the kits come with included hex tools and washers as well as a nice case with everything sorted and labeled.
Whether you plan on designing things yourself or just printing pre-made STL files you find online at places such as Thingiverse, you will need digital calipers. Maybe the 3D model you downloaded is too big to fit in a certain space, or the screw holes are in the wrong spot or not big enough, digital calipers help you know exactly how much to scale the object in your design tool (Tinkercad is free and as easy as building with Legos).
There are extremely cheap non-digital calipers, but honestly you are only saving a few bucks and manual calipers are often inaccurate, require you to calculate the exact measurement reading tiny lines, and are built like a cheap Happy Meal Toy. Some digital calipers cost hundreds of dollars, but we are not measuring hair follicles. Just about any sub-$20 or even sub-$10 tool is fine for 99% of what you will be using them for.
A Small Handheld Cordless Vacuum
3D printing is messy. Little shavings of plastic and dust and dried wax (if you use glue sticks… you should, but more on that later) get everywhere. A typical 3D printer has a lot of crevices and places that these particles can get into. Here is my Ender 3v2 after about 6 prints:
As you can see, my printer is a mess. I don't wan't to let that go too long as it could gum up the works and maybe get on the belt gears or in the stepper motors.
You can use a regular vacuum with the hose attachment to clean up, but big vacuums generate a lot of static electricity which can possibly zap your electronics. Not extremely likely, but possible.
A small handheld vacuum model is easier to maneuver around your printer. You don’t need to break the bank on this. Here is a simple unit with a nice small wand suction tube that will serve your needs just fine. It’s not a 5 star product because people have this expectation that a small battery powered vacuum will suck a golf ball through a garden hose. These little vacuums are for tiny bits, tiny places, and small amounts of dust. They work great for 3D printer cleanup.
A Spray Bottle, Distilled Water, and Paper Towels
Tap water has all kinds of minerals and impurities that are bad mojo (not to mention Chlorine, Fluoride, Ammonia, and trace amounts of commonly prescribed medications - yeah… you are drinking someone’s cholesterol or heart medicine a little at a time.).
The only thing you really need to clean a glass bed and most other beds is distilled water. But but but…. Everyone says I need to clean it with 91% rubbing alcohol! Well they say that because people naturally have oils in their skin. Are you really touching your bed with your bare hands a lot? Why? The only time I use rubbing alcohol is when I physically need to remove my glass bed, thus I am handling it a lot, which is very very VERY rarely.
You can get distilled water from your local grocery store by the gallon, but for people who never leave the house I have included a link below to buy distilled water online. If you have a reverse osmosis machine installed in your home then you can use that water instead of buying distilled water. RO Water is pretty close to the purity of distilled water.
You can use any old empty spray bottle (just make sure you clean it well and run several sprays of distilled water through it), or pick one up from the dollar store.
Finally, paper towels. Never spray water (or aerosols, hairspray, etc.) directly on your print bed or in the direction of your printer. Fold up a paper towel and spray into the paper towel to dampen it. I suppose you can forgo the spray bottle and just dab water from the bottle onto the paper towel, but the spray bottle is quick to grab, cheap, and convenient.
I’ve provided some Amazon links for these basic necessities:
If you want an endless supply of super clean water you can buy a reverse osmosis system. It’s not just for 3D printing! With an RO System you get the equivalent of a gallon of Distilled Water (about $1.50 at your local store) for about 2 cents a gallon. I know the one I linked below is a little pricey, but if you click the link and look around you can find many in the $80 range that work just as good and make thousands of gallons of clean water.
First of all, forget all the haters. Using glue sticks on your print bed is not for beginners and makes printing on smooth glass easy-peasy. I only print on smooth glass for several reasons. I say ‘smooth glass’ because glass beds usually have a textured side and a smooth bottom. I print on the bottom side. You can read my article Why I Only Print On Smooth Glass to learn why printing on glass is a best practice.
Glue sticks are not the same a PVA glue (common white school glue like Elmer’s). Glue sticks are a type of sticky wax. For PLA filaments, they help the first layer of your print to stick to the bed. For PETG filaments, they help you remove the printed object easily when the bed is cooled down. You only need a thin coat of glue stick to last about 3 prints. After each print you simply heat up your bed and use your distilled water and paper towel and gently wipe away the outline of the previous print.
That being said, some people don’t like glue sticks for a few reasons.
One is they think it is messy.
That is because they are using too much glue stick.
Another reason is because they think it burns into the print.
Again, too much glue and not wiping between prints.
If you have watched a video online and the bed surface has lines all over it from previous prints, they are doing it wrong or using a textured bed surface instead of smooth glass and the textured surface is getting worn out.
Yet another reason people don’t like glue sticks is because they are small like sticks of chapstick and you have to paint your bed with them in several small swipes without overlapping and applying too much glue or globs of glue.
A heated bed will often melt overlapped glue-stick wax and smooth out most of the time.
Glue sticks are easy, cheap, and found everywhere. There is however, and even better solution: Wyqid’s Bed Tack. It’s not a product I’m selling, it’s a formula I created using simple household ingredients that glides on like a gel. I’ve even designed a special 3D Model Sponge Cap that fits on to any standard soda bottle to make application a breeze. It wipes off just as easily as it goes on with distilled water. Seriously, if you use Wyqid’s Bed Tack, you’ll never go back to glue sticks or hair spray or whatever ever again. It’s also a lot cheaper than buying glue sticks or hair spray. I’d say *end shameless product plug here*, but since I’m giving you the recipe for free I have no shame. My Bed Tack is the shizznit!
For your kid’s science fair project or serious crafting, cheap generic glue sticks suck. But for 3D printing, cheap generic glue sticks work just as good. Anyone who says otherwise is yanking your chain.
Razor Scraper and Craft Blades
This is two items in the same category with different purposes. First we will talk about razor scrapers. This is basically your standard old skool razor blade with a case to serve as a handle. These come in very handy for quickly cleaning smooth glass, especially if you have used too much glue stick and the surface of your bed is lumpy from buildup. Glue sticks are water soluble, but it takes a lot of wet paper towels to wipe away the glue if you have it piled on. You also don’t want to rub with a lot of pressure or you will destabilize your bed and need to re-level it.
With the razor you can scrape any residue off down to the glass in one swipe, more or less. You can’t use razors on a textured surface because they would damage the coating. With a textured surface you kinda have to remove the bed from the printer and clean it.
I almost never remove my glass beds and I don’t use any kind of clips to secure them, but they are very secure and don’t move. (More on that on the next bullet point).
The other item in this category is craft blades. These are not an absolute necessity, but they help with cleaning up prints. You can use them to remove the lip left by a brim, get rid of stringing in hard to reach places, and clear out holes. Craft blades are like mini razor blades of different shapes. They are mounted on the end of small rods. Think of a paint brush with a razor at the end instead of bristles.
Painters tape is what I use to secure my bed to the hot plate. I stopped using metal clips when I wrecked my nozzle into one once. I’ve also had a metal clip scratch the textured side of the glass bed. You wouldn’t think painters tape would be a good way to secure the bed but actually it works fantastic.
You position the painter's tape over the top edge by just a few millimeters and wrap the rest under the hot plate. Despite the heat, the tape never comes loose. I put a 3 inch long or so strip on each side. Best of all, it gives me 100% of my build surface (235mm instead of 220mm on my Ender 3v2 and Aquila Ender 3 clone) if need be. You can print right on top of the tape if you need to. If I need to remove my bed then it is easy. But actually, I haven’t removed my bed in months. I even added a runout sensor and other upgrades with the printer laying on its side so I could access the motherboard and never touched the glass plate. The tape holds!
A Small Adjustable Wrench
Most 3D Printers come with all the hex key tools and a few specific size flat wrenches for the bolts and nuts on your particular printer. One thing they don’t come with is an adjustable wrench.
Why do you need an adjustable wrench you might ask?
For changing nozzles. The wrench that fits the typical 0.4mm nozzles probably was likely included with your printer, but you can’t loosen or tighten it properly without another wrench to hold the aluminum heater block. The heater block holds the thermistor, cartridge, and is what the nozzle screws in to.
You can screw the nozzle in by hand, but to tighten it properly (and remove it), you have to heat the nozzle up to about 235 degrees celsius. This is because metal expands slightly when hot. Since heater blocks can be different sizes and even be a tiny bit larger or smaller when hot and cold, you need an adjustable wrench to grip it so it doesn’t move when you tighten or remove the nozzle to avoid bending the heater block, heatbreak, or stripping the threads.
I think we all have seen silica packets before. You will usually find one in the vacuum bag of every roll of filament you buy. They are usually included in the box of any electronics you purchase as well as in the packaging for pill bottles, furniture, etc..
It’s that little paper pouch full of beads with the ominus phrase ‘DO NOT EAT’ printed on it. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never bought a bluetooth speaker and thought to myself… oh neat… a free bag candy, but I digress.
What do silica packets do? Silica packets absorb moisture. This is important because filament (especially PETG) absorb moisture. When filament is not ‘dry’, it will snap, crack, or ruin your print. You should save all the silica packets you get from whatever products you buy and store them with your filament in large food storage bags. You don’t have to vacuum seal the bags like some people suggest, but you should have a silica packet in the bag with the filament.
When is a silica packet all used up?
Unless you purchase color indicating silica beads and make transparent packs yourself, you won’t know if a silica packet is saturated. The good news is that you can dry them out and reuse them as many times as you want. Simply spread the packets on a baking sheet, heat the oven to about 120 degrees Celsius or 250 Fahrenheit and bake the packets for 2-3 hours.
Can I tell if my filament has absorbed too much moisture by examining it?
Not really. It will look and feel the same. You can bend it and if it snaps then yeah that is a clear indicator. It is possible to dry out filament with a filament dryer or food dehydrator, but that’s going to be in another post.
Now if you really want to up your game, buy a dehumidifier. Besides, baking the silica packets will just release the moisture back into the air. If you have your printer in its own room like a small office or spare bedroom like most people, you can buy a cheap 250 square foot dehumidifier for about $35. This is assuming the room is actually only 100 square feet and with the door closed. You want a dehumidifier that can handle about twice the space as the room your printer is in. If this isn’t possible, place the dehumidifier close to the ground and store your filament above on a shelf. Hot air is less humid and hot air rises. Cold air holds more moisture and is near the floor.
I live in central Florida and my laboratory is in my garage. The lab is a custom built room with central heat and air conditioning professionally installed and is insulated with a moisture barrier under the turf carpeting and fiberglass insulated walls. The lab is only 100 square feet. Despite that, with only a 250 square foot dehumidifier and silica packets galore, the room stays at about 45% humidity (this is central Florida after all. 80-100% humidity is common, especially in the summer). I upgraded my dehumidifier to an 800 square foot model and I have another unit in my living room. Now my lab hovers at 25% humidity. Anything over 40% is bad for your filament.
By the way, I’ve never had to dry out a roll of filament despite living in one of the most humid places in the USA. That may be because of the setup I have, or it could be that I only open a roll when I am going to use it. Since I mainly only print in black, white, and grey, I don’t change colors often. I’ve printed a lot of PETG and took over a month to finish one roll. It sat on the spool holder on top of my printer at 45% humidity the whole time and I never had a problem.